Heather Garriock carries competitive fire from pitch to Canberra bench
As an elite footballer, Heather Garriock was known for her "win at all costs" mentality. This season she takes that ethos into her first head coaching role -- with one caveat.
"I still want to win at all costs ... but it won't be at the cost of my team!"
Her team is one of the most successful in the nine-year history of the W-League. Reigning Premiers Canberra United have finished top of the table in the regular season three times (the most of any side) and won two championship trophies, yet it's not something Garriock feels adds pressure ahead of the season kick-off.
"The success will come," she told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview. "I want to produce a viable long-term program for Canberra, with players who want to be part of this club, to play for Canberra -- not just fly in and out for the season. A big part of that is developing local talent, bringing young Canberrans through and helping them to achieve their dreams."
Helping develop young players is far from a new concept for the Matildas legend. As a player, she started the Heather Garriock Football Academy, travelling back from stints in the United States and Europe to work with girls ages six to 16 over the summer break.
While Garriock always loved the experience of teaching younger players, it wasn't until her playing days came to an end that she considered making it a professional career. Garriock says the support for the development of female coaches in Australia was key in her progression, telling ESPN "that allowed me to fast track my licensing, it offered me an opportunity in the mentoring program and now to be with this great club. It's incredible."
Having also completed a master's in Education and Sports Coaching, Garriock already has made an impact on the scene, awarded the 2015 Football NSW Women's NPL1 Coach of the Year after leading Sydney University to the title. However, the step up to the elite level would mean some big lifestyle changes and difficult decisions on the home front.
With the full support of husband Mathieu Louchart, the couple relocated to the capital with their two young children. The pair have another baby on the way now, so life will only get busier, but in the meantime the move has been a huge success.
"We absolutely love it. I lived at the AIS for a period of time as a player, but I never got out of Belconnen," Garriock said with a laugh.
"The decision to move was really hard. I wasn't coming to a full-time job and we really had to think about the direction I wanted to go in as a coach. It's all fallen into place. Matt has a great job here, Kaizen [Garriock's eldest daughter] has a place at a French bilingual school and it's a great city to bring up kids.
"They love getting out for bike rides and we've found some excellent restaurants. The lifestyle is fantastic."
Garriock also praised the support of the Canberra community in backing its female athletes.
"I was at Parliament House recently and it was surreal to be there with the basketball and cricket sides actually discussing how we can get the best for women's sport," she said. "They make the girls feel like superstars, the TV and print media give the sides proper coverage and women's sport is really embraced here."
It's major progress from the early days of her career. Garriock first played in boys' teams (as competitions didn't have dedicated girls' sides) and retired 28 years later as a veteran of three Women's World Cups, two Olympic Games and three Asian Cups, fighting for the introduction of a proper policy to support female players who have children.
While conditions for women in the game have advanced enormously, and with her own days of lacing up the boots for 90 minutes over, Garriock says coaching is the next best thing to playing, albeit much more stressful.
"As a player, you take care of yourself and what you do, you can be selfish," she said. "As a coach, you need to be on top of everything on and off the field, including player welfare, cutting edge technology, training programs and team management."
She's had the opportunity to learn from some of the best.
"My coach in Denmark, Flemming Nielsen, was brilliant. I loved playing for him," she said. "Tom Sermanni's management style is second to none. I've never seen anything like it and the passion and desire for the game that Alen Stajcic has, I learned a lot from all of them."
Garriock has assembled an impressive squad, including quality international signings in Americans Hayley Kopmeyer and Toni Pressley as well as England's Laura Bassett. The signing of Camila Martins Pereira was a huge coup, but the Brazilian ruptured her ACL playing for the Orlando Pride just a few weeks ago. A host of young local talent will get an opportunity alongside seasoned regulars such as Michelle Heyman and Ash Sykes, both of whom will have a lot of responsibility this season, Garriock said.
"They are experienced and just need to do their jobs and play to their potential," she said. "They do their talking on the field and their presence is so important as role models. They are hard trainers, have no ego and the example they set for the younger players is crucial."
The talent of those younger players is underlined by the fact that six will be missing in Round 1 as they fulfil their commitments with the Young Matildas in China. While it means some juggling for Garriock in the opening clash against Melbourne Victory, she accepts it as part and parcel of signing players of that calibre, and as part of the job to develop them to that level.
Admitting that Melbourne City and Sydney FC likely will be the toughest challenges in a league that looks to be more hotly contested than ever, Garriock's goal is clear. Her demeanour in the dugout likely will be calm and composed, but the competitive fire that served her so well on the pitch still will be burning inside.
"I want success," she said. "I always want to win everything and that was my mindset as a player. Coaching hasn't changed that. Every game I go into, I want to win -- that's just how I am."
ESPN Australia/New Zealand columnist Stephanie Brantz has spent the past 20 years excelling in the coverage of football and women's sport.